A press release issued yesterday by the Spanish Ministry of Defence states that the 114 migrants who were rescued by the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón on 11 July were transferred to Tunisian authorities on 16 July pursuant to orders issued by NATO command.
I previously have sought clarification from both NATO and the Spanish Defence Ministry regarding who made the decision to turn the rescued migrants over to Tunisian authorities and what procedures, if any, were followed to screen rescued migrants before the transfer. NATO’s Operation Unified Protector press office informed me that all inquiries had to be directed to the Spanish Defence Ministry.
The Defence Ministry’s press office in turn has ignored my inquiries.
[Update – 4 August – I received information today from Communication Office of the Spanish Ministry of Defence reiterating that the Spanish frigate was under NATO command as an asset participating in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector. According to the Communication Office, after the Spanish frigate commander made the decision that the migrants needed to be rescued, all of the frigate’s subsequent actions were carried out pursuant to specific commands issued by the NATO command, including the final order to transfer the migrants to Tunisian authorities. Spanish authorities were never involved in discussions or negotiations with other countries regarding the rescued migrants. The Communication Office referred me to NATO’s OUP Press Office for information regarding any further details of the operation. I will try again with NATO.]
The press release issued yesterday pertains to a visit made to the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón by Italian Rear Admiral Filippo Maria Foffi, Commander of the NATO naval task group for Operation Unified Protector, where he praised the crew of the frigate for the rescue operation.
The press release goes on to state that after the migrants were taken on board the frigate on 11 July, “on orders from NATO command, the Juan de Borbón sailed to Malta and took a position 40 miles off the coast of that country. On 16 July, instructed by the command of NATO, the Spanish frigate headed for the coast of Tunisia to start the transfer to the Tunisian Navy patrol boat Carthage of the 106 immigrants who were still on board, after the earlier evacuation of eight persons for health and medical reasons.”
(“…siguiendo órdenes del mando de la OTAN, la ‘Juan de Borbón’ puso rumbo a Malta posicionándose a 40 millas frente a las costas de ese país. El pasado 16 de julio, siguiendo instrucciones del mando de la Alianza, se dirigió hacia las costas de Túnez para iniciar el traslado al patrullero Carthage de la Armada tunecina, de los 106 inmigrantes que aún permanecían a bordo tras la evacuación de ocho personas por motivos médicos y de salud…”)
The Spanish government and NATO are rightfully to be praised for the rescue operation. What is unfortunate is the lack of transparency on the part of both NATO and the Spanish Defence Ministry in regard to why the decision was made to transfer the migrants to Tunisia and what procedures, if any, were used to screen the migrants for claims to international protection.
Click here for Defence Ministry Press Release. (ES)
Click here for my last post on this topic.